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CADA board under fire after firing director

Staff reporter

Observers and people involved with the nonprofit group Citizens Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse say they're concerned that the current board of directors may be mismanaging the agency.

Board members recently fired long-time executive director Valerie Stafford, but won't give a public explanation. The board plans to replace Stafford with an interim director.

Stafford is looking at possible legal action, but said she is only concerned about the future of the organization she worked so hard to expand.

"I'm moving on, and am looking forward to doing lots of new things, but CADA is facing a rough transition," she said.

She added that the board offered to let her resign with severance pay if she would agree to remain silent about "matters regarding her employment." She did not agree to the stipulation.

CADA Board Vice President Lynn Wilcox said it is board policy not to discuss personnel matters, even though CADA's programs are largely funded by state and federal grants. A state agency would be required to disclose such information. Wilcox referred to the board of directors' by-laws in refusing to comment on the firing.

However, the CADA's actual confidentiality rules seem to apply only to information about clients, not personnel.

Wilcox said the board does not see it that way.

"It's not that we're hiding anything," she said. "It's just out of respect to people who have worked here."

Stafford said she believes the real reason behind her dismissal stems from two employees who resigned last year and afterwards voiced complaints about the "stressful work environment." The ex-employees are said to be friends of a board member, who allegedly discussed agency issues with them without authorization and in violation of the organization's personnel policy.

The board investigated the complaints last year, but Stafford said they did not request information or documentation from her pertaining to the complaints, or ask for her "side of the story." She said the board never discussed the matter with her again after October 2001.

In regards to the firing, CADA board president Rosemary Morrison said last week that she's "not going to discuss that." But one board member who came before Morrison had something to say about Stafford's dismissal. Former CADA board president Diane Robbins said she was "appalled" to hear about the termination.

"Valerie Stafford is the heart and soul of the agency," she said.

Another concern about the direction of the board is the claim that the board told CADA staff they can't talk to the media or anyone else about Stafford leaving. Staff members who asked that their names not be used say morale is low and they are scared.

Stafford has received statewide and even national recognition for the programs she created at CADA, such as Island County Domestic Violence Task Force, the Domestic Abuse Response Team, elder abuse program, children's interview rooms, child advocacy program, the recent documentary filming at Oak Harbor High School, and many others.

"Leaving at this time was not my choice, and I believe that terminating me without notice or cause was an irresponsible decision by the board of directors," Stafford said. "Unfortunately, the recent developments appear to have more to do with politics than providing high-quality services to the community."

Wilcox explained that the board members told the staff not to discuss Stafford's leaving because the staff "does not know anything." Yet the fact that the board had direct contact with staff members, and that Wilcox was at CADA Thursday, may violate the agency's own policy. Personnel Policy 8.1 states, "Employees are prohibited from contacting a member of the Board of Directors regarding agency issues or concerns. The Board wishes to maintain this boundary to promote the professional operation of the agency."

In other words, the board is supposed to be a non-biased, policy-making group without input in the day-to-day operation of CADA.

As to other concerns about the board members, Wilcox would only say "we're doing our jobs." She would not comment on a host of harsher rumors circulating about the politics of the board.

CADA, which started in 1979, offers a variety of free, confidential services to children and adults, including shelter, counseling and therapy, support groups and legal advocacy. CADA also provides community education programs and technical assistance to other agencies and professionals.

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